Ignoring the FA Cup exit at Hull, Swansea's 2017 began as it needed it to. The back-and-forth, multi-manager chaos of 2016 was bookended by a resilient display at Selhurst Park, with goals from Alfie Mawson and Angel Rangel enough to upend Crystal Palace in south London..
On Saturday, the fourth new reign of the season properly began, with Paul Clement taking control of his first home game, with Arsenal making the trip to south Wales. But there ended the resistance: Arsene Wenger's side came, they saw, and they cantered away with the points. Swansea have numerous structural issues, but none which are as crippling as their collective lack of belief.
This may be a new era - how many can one team have in one season? - but old frailties remain. Swansea started well, ceding the bulk of possession but constructing the odd neat triangle and asking the more telling questions. It may have been a stale game, but given the firepower the visitors brought across the Severn Bridge, that suited the home crowd well enough. Thirty-five lifeless minutes in, though, Olivier Giroud tapped home to give the visitors the lead. Seconds earlier, Giroud had failed to reach Alex Iwobi's driven cross but, after Alexis Sanchez played the ball back in, the French forward, limping after an early collision, prodded home.
The game didn't quite burst to life, but Swansea did mount a response: Ki Sung Yeung collected a neat layoff from Gylfi Sigurdsson and tumbled in the box, apparently under a challenge from Koscielny. No penalty: referee Jones deemed it incidental contact and booked the South Korean for simulation.
Forty-five minutes of positives and negatives for both sides: Arsenal scored with their only meaningful attack, having looked largely ineffective. Swansea, despite being accurate in possession and resolute, fell behind after their solitary lapse. There's a texture to that, perhaps even a description of Premier League life; regardless, Clement will need to put his team on the right side of that divide if he and they are to survive at this level.
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Should that happen, it will have required more than a mental adjustment. Swansea aren't short of talent, as is often claimed, but they lack enough variation within their squad to be anything other than predictable. They keep the ball, the look to build safe, low risk phases - very occasionally playing directly into the channels - but their options at the top of the pitch are perilously narrow; to score, they rely on the construction of near-perfect passages of play. The right ball to Llorente, the perfect cross from outside or, more often, a mistake from an opponent.
When confronted with relegation, that's a narrow path to tread.
Devoid of luck
The second-half began with similar misfortune. Clearly chastened by some stinging words from Arsene Wenger, Arsenal emerged with greater spirit, penning their hosts back and prowling the final-third. Eventually, the mismatch came: Iwobi found space on the right of the box and his drive nicked up off Jack Cork, looped over Fabianksi, and dropped into the far corner. Unlucky, but still a goal which Arsenal warranted.
And then down came the cards: a third would follow shortly after, with another Iwobi effort deflecting wickedly past the helpless Fabianski.
Old demons, old demons. That early spirit vanished into the late afternoon, with Swansea on the canvas and Arsenal in a spiteful mood. Three became four, with Alexis Sanchez steering into the corner after some penalty-box pinball, and the Liberty Stadium sank into chilly, dispirited silence. The home players weren't hassled or jeered and that in itself is illustrative: everyone knows what the problem is and native disaffection would only add to it. Swansea City could be blown over by the wind at the moment, let alone 20,000 catcalls.
Belief is one of football's incalculables - but however it's measured, there isn't enough in south Wales. The common thread which connected Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley was their side's failure to respond well to adversity. On Saturday again, they needed little encouragement to cover up and cower. These are early days under Clement, admittedly, but he has enjoyed little of the fabled "new manager bounce": the limbs aren't pumping, the blood isn't flowing and enthusiasm seems in short supply. Sometimes players respond to a change of voice, others are invigorated by fresh ideas - troublingly, there was no evidence of either. The new head-coach barked from his technical area throughout the first half, then slumped on the bench in the second. Willful misinterpretation though it may be, it was descriptive of just how difficult it might be to shift the Swansea mood.
After the game, Clement spoke of the "crushing defeats" his new players have suffered in recent months. It's very much the voguing issue, because while conceding goals is part of the game, for Swansea it always appears terminal: at one-nil they remain spirited, but once at any greater deficit their shoulders slump and their eyes roll. These are the symptoms of missing ingredients: the lack of attacking variation is a problem, clearly, but the absence of belief more so. One problem feeds into the other and its a vicious cycle which has to be cured.
Whether it can be is another matter. Prior to kick-off, new signing Luciano Narsingh was introduced to the crowd and, once available, his lightning acceleration will make Swansea more dynamic. Tom Carroll and Martin Olsson, both of whom are just a medical away from arriving, will provide cultured distribution and a useful wide threat respectively. The greater feat will be to alter the common mindset, though, and to equip these players with the emotional tools to survive.
Do Swansea believe that they can cut their way out of the undergrowth or are they just prepared to lie down and wait for the winter to take them? It's a time to be brave and, to quote the town's most famous lyricist, to rage against the dying of the light.
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Seb Stafford-Bloor is a football writer at Tifo Football and member of the Football Writers' Association. He was formerly a regularly columnist for the FourFourTwo website, covering all aspects of the game, including tactical analysis, reaction pieces, longer-term trends and critiquing the increasingly shady business of football's financial side and authorities' decision-making.
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